Commercial Crewed Gets Whittled Down to 2.5

The three awardees under NASA’s Commercial Crew integrated Capability Program are (from left-to-right_ SpaceX, Sierra Nevada Corporation and Boeing. Photo Credit (left-to-right) AmericaSpace / SNC / Boeing

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla – NASA’s Commercial Crew Program or “CCP” is now down to just 2.5 companies. Under the Commercial Crew integrated Capability (CCiCap) Boeing and Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) will share $1 billion with Sierra Nevada Corporation awarded a much smaller amount to serve as essentially a back up for the two companies. The announcement was made today at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center located in Florida.

The three companies selected each are working to produce spacecraft that would be utilized to ferry cargo and crew to the International Space Station (ISS) as well as other potential destinations in low-Earth-orbit. The vehicles being developed by these firms are as follow:

  • Boeing – Boeing’s offering is the Crew Transportation System capsule or the CST-100 as it is more commonly called. This spacecraft is designed to be capable of delivering a crew of seven, supplies or a mixture of the two. Boeing was awarded $460 million.
  • SpaceX – The Dragon that SpaceX is developing has already traveled to the International Space Station (the COTS-2 mission completed on May 31, 2012). The spacecraft is also capable of delivering cargo or a crew of seven and features a “trunk” which allows for unpressurized cargo to also be delivered. SpaceX’s award is $440 million.
  • Sierra Nevada Corporation – SNC’s Dream Chaser is unique compared to the other two awardees in that it is a space plane (unlike the capsule configurations of Boeing and SpaceX). Like her counterparts, the Dream Chaser is capable of supporting a crew of seven and delivering cargo. Unlike either the CST-100 or Dragon, Dream Chaser would land on a runway instead of splashing down in the ocean. SNC’s award was smaller than either Boeing’s or SpaceX’s coming in at $212.5 million.

The three spacecraft selected, seen here in this comparison chart alongside the space shuttle and Orion spacecraft, each have unique capabilites and should provide NASA with a much-needed diverse supply of vehicles to launch astronauts in. Image Credit: Max-Q Entertainment
NASA made the announcements at the Operations Support Building – II (OSB-II). Speakers included NASA’s Administrator Charlie Bolden, NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Director Robert Cabana and NASA’s Commercial Crew Program Manager Ed Mango.

“Our goal is to end the out-sourcing of space transportation and bring it right back here to U.S. soil,” Bolden said. “The innovative spacecraft proposed by NASA’s partners will serve to spur further technological development.”

Both Boeing and Sierra Nevada Corporation have tapped United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V rocket to launch their respective spacecraft. SpaceX will utilize the company’s Falcon 9 rocket. Photo Credit: Alan Walters /

NASA has entered into a number of Space Act Agreements, both funded and unfunded with partner firms. For the purposes of CCiCap the three companies announced today will be paid according to milestones met. This is designed to limit the amount of exposure to the taxpayer.

“I’d like to take a step back and look at 1927. The only way to get across the ocean was by boat,” Mango said. “Charles Lindbergh flew across the ocean and made the world smaller. Today our partners are on the threshold of making the world and planet smaller as well.”

The companies that have been competing under NASA’s commercial program have entered into two different types of SAA’s – those that NASA has provided funds to the company (funded) and those that the company paid for the development on their own (unfunded).

Funded Space Acts

  • Blue Origin Space Act Agreement – 04/18/2011
  • The Boeing Company Space Act Agreement – 04/18/2011
  • Sierra Nevada Company Space Act Agreement – 04/18/2011
  • Space Exploration Technologies Corp. Space Act Agreement – 04/18/2011

Unfunded Space Acts

  • United Launch Alliance Space Act Agreement – 07/13/2011
  • Alliance Techsystems, Inc. Space Act Agreement – 09/12/2011
  • Excalibur Almaz, Inc. Space Act Agreement – 10/17/2011

All of the companies selected today have received funding by NASA. The only one not selected was Blue Origin. According to an article posted on Space News, the Kent, Wash.-based company received some $25.7 million for the second round of the Commercial Crew Development Program. It appears that Blue Origin did not submit a proposal for CCiCap. When the question of whether-or-not NASA’s investment in Blue Origin was viewed to be a positive thing, Bolden referred the question to William Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate. Gerstenmaier later confirmed that Blue Origin had, in fact, not submitted a proposal.


Video courtesy of NASA

For SpaceX the plan is to move forward with plans to conduct its first manned flight by 2015. The company’s Dragon spacecraft at first will be used for unmanned crgo missions to the ISS, however, both Dragon and the Falcon 9 launch vehicle were designed from the outset for crewed missions.

“This is a decisive milestone in human spaceflight and sets an exciting course for the next phase of American space exploration,” said SpaceX CEO and Chief Designer Elon Musk. “SpaceX, along with our partners at NASA, will continue to push the boundaries of space technology to develop the safest, most advanced crew vehicle ever flown.”

Image Credit: NASA

Boeing’s CST-100 enters the third round of the commercial crew program looking to meet more milestones on the road to get ready for certification. The capsule will have its launch vehicle integration and ground systems furthered developed.

“This award will enable us to build on the successes achieved in our Commercial Crew work for effective development through Critical Design Review, as we progress toward human rating and certification,” Boeing’s Vice-President and Program Manager of Commercial Programs, John Mulholland said. “We look forward to providing a complete end-to-end transportation service to support NASA crew transportation to and from the International Space Station and fostering a growing market for commercial transportation to other low-Earth-orbit destinations.”

Ed Mango, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program manager, addresses those in attendance at today’s press conference as NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Director Robert Cabana (far left) and NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden (middle) look on. Photo Credit: Julian Leek / Blue Sawtooth Studios
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    • As noted above, the list and award amounts:

      • Sierra Nevada – $212.5M
      • Boeing – $460M
      • SpaceX – $440M

      For a total of $1.1125B. And that total is a bit of a problem.

      The agreement with Congress for CCPiCap was 2 1/2 awardees to be funded during FY12+FY13 at under $1B. By “awarding” $1.113B, NASA’s leadership has people on the Hill are wondering where the extra money will come from, since it isn’t coming from the appropriators.

        • Joe,

          The article deals with commercial access to orbit and has nothing to do with SLS, MPCV or unmanned Mars probes – which is why they aren’t in the article.

          Sincerely, Jason

      • Jim,

        Sorry, but thats not in fact true. There is no agreement to fund it using FY12 & FY13 for CCiCap. In point of fact, the FY2012 money was used for CCDev 2, not CCiCap (and Congress knows this).

        The issue in all of this is how much they get in FY13 and FY14

  1. I have to wonder why ATK Liberty was turned down and Sierra Nevada received partial funding. What are your thoughts, if any, on how the decision was made? I knew SpaceX was a given, and Boeing had a strong chance, but from there, it was anyone’s guess. I am disappointed to see that Liberty will not have the opportunity to prove it’s value withCiCap funding.

    • ATK says they’ll continue work on Liberty regardless, so if they do indeed have something to offer, the market will give them the opportunity to prove it down the road.

      At this time, though, I would’ve been more than a little disturbed if they were chosen over SNC. They don’t have a launcher yet, they have components that are both being used in ways they weren’t designed for. It will be a lot of work to turn the Arianne first stage into a viable second stage. If they had been at their current stage of development back when CCDev1 started up, it might be a more competitive offering.

      SNC doesn’t need to spend any time or money on the launcher, and they’re already well into testing the Dream Chaser. It seemed like a pretty logical choice to me.

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